Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. But while workplace conflict is to be expected from time to time, it does not have to be something you fear with impending doom.

Instead, as a business owner or leader, it is your job to anticipate conflict and prepare for it. Taking a proactive approach to dealing with workplace conflict can save you time, money, lost productivity, and help preserve employee morale.

We’ve all encountered conflict at work at some point in our careers, whether we were involved directly, we’ve felt the collateral damage, or we were tasked with resolving the situation. It can put a real damper on your mood and affect your ability to do your job.

In fact, disagreements with supervisors, friction among coworkers, and office drama are leading culprits behind job dissatisfaction, poor employee performance, absenteeism, and high turnover.

Let’s face it; nobody wants to come to work and do their best when the environment is rife with tension and management isn’t doing anything about it.

Even though there is no way to avoid workplace conflict altogether, it should not be a regular occurrence in the workplace. Disagreements naturally arise whenever people have ongoing interaction with one another, particularly when their livelihoods and egos are involved.

  • Troublemakers slip through employment pre-screenings.
  • New managers get in over their heads.
  • High stakes and high-pressure environments can cause tempers to flare.
  • People bring their personal problems to work.

Whatever the reason, conflict in the workplace is bound to happen. It’s how you deal with it that matters. Planning for managing conflict in advance is the best way to shape the most favorable outcomes possible.

Whether you are dealing with conflicts between employees, conflicts between teams, or conflicts between supervisors and their reports, having appropriate policies and procedures in place establishes consistency and fairness that protects employee morale.

As a human resources consultant, I often work closely with companies to prevent unnecessary conflict in the workplace, devise protocols for managing problems when they arise, and conduct proper investigations when an incident has occurred.

Here are 6 tips for dealing with workplace conflict at your place of business:

1. Establish Expectations

The first step to addressing workplace conflict is to set clear expectations. Employees should be aware of policies, procedures, and what is expected of them in terms of job performance, behavior, and company cultural norms. Provide comprehensive new employee orientation, and on-going training to ensure shared understanding at all levels of your organization.

Conflict often occurs when employees perceive unfair treatment, inconsistencies, and mismanaged expectations. When everyone is on the same page and aware of what to do and how to work together, the workplace tends to operate more harmoniously.

2. Keep Lines of Communication Open

When employees not only know what is expected of them but also feel comfortable communicating how they feel when an issue arises, your company can avoid and minimize conflict. On the other hand, if employees fear that their concerns will be ignored, dismissed, or that they will face retaliation, problems are more likely to fester and boil over.

Keeping an open line of communication that’s mutually respectful between employees and management can go a long way toward preventing conflict escalations.

3. Empower Your Leaders

Most of us are not born knowing how to deal with conflict. When someone is hired or promoted into a leadership role, it’s important to equip them with training and protocols to follow that empower them to manage conflict on their team effectively.

Your leaders should know how to recognize harassment, bullying, discrimination, and inappropriate workplace behavior. They should undergo training on how to be strong listeners, ask clarifying questions, seek common ground, document, and propose solutions.

4. Address Conflict Immediately

In today’s workplace, we are all busy and have a lot of responsibilities on our plates. However, handling conflict must be a priority. All-too-often, management ignores a problem or delays addressing it until it escalates.

Suddenly, productivity tanks, a valued employee resigns, or a heated argument or violence occurs — when the headaches and safety or legal concerns could’ve been avoided had leaders dealt with conflict in a timely manner.

5. Gather Facts and Details

When an employee makes a complaint or reports an incident, your company is responsible for gathering the facts. Remember, you’re always open to legal, financial, and safety vulnerabilities. Conduct investigations when necessary.

You will need to determine what policy was violated, who was involved, what supporting evidence exists, and much more.

As a human resources consultant, I advise my clients to conduct investigations any time they encounter incidents such as:

  • Complaints of sexual harassment or other types of workplace harassment or discrimination
  • Violence in the workplace
  • Workplace bullying
  • Workplace safety concerns
  • Accounting or financial errors or issues
  • Theft or fraud in the workplace

Before undertaking an investigation, a proper plan should be prepared: get organized, gather important information and get started.

6. Take Action

Once you have a clear picture of what happened and how the conflict occurred, take reasonable action to restore order and improve the situation. You may need to terminate an employee, provide additional training, change schedules, or make other accommodations.

Propose solutions, follow through, honor your commitments, and check in periodically to make sure the conflict has been mitigated or resolved. Plus, do whatever possible to prevent similar conflicts from occurring in the future.

Overall, although dealing with workplace conflict can be challenging, I encourage my clients to embrace the preparation and management of conflict as a learning and growth opportunity.

Keep in mind that during the course of any investigation you may discover that things at your organization are not as they seem. Go with the flow. Be open to learning what you can do to improve your organization using the knowledge gained while addressing the issue of workplace conflict.

Does your organization need support in dealing with workplace conflict? We Can Help! Contact us for one of the following solutions:

Employee Relations Consulting:

  • Conducting workplace conduct investigations
  • Investigating harassment and discrimination claims in the workplace
  • Facilitating difficult conversations with employees and managers
  • Helping craft documentation related to poor performance or poor behavior in the workplace

Custom Learning Experiences for Your Organization:

  • Sessions for Supervisors, Managers & Organization Leaders – How to Have Difficult Conversations with Employees
  • Effective Leadership – Leadership is an art and a skill. The more we study it and practice, the more effective we are as leaders.  Learn to be a leader that others want to follow.

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